Study finds that a happy worker is a healthy, cheaper worker

February 26, 2009
Written by Globe and Mail

Research carried out in conjunction with the 2009 Best Employers in Canada study has established that highly engaged employees experience better health and overall well-being. This finding reinforces the benefits for both employers and employees of increasing employee engagement, according to Hewitt Associates, the global human resources consulting and outsourcing company that conducts the annual study.

"The 115,000 employees surveyed as part of the 2009 study clearly revealed that high engagement goes hand-in-hand with better health and well-being," said Neil Crawford, leader of Hewitt's Best Employers in Canada study. "Employees at organizations with high engagement reported better physical health, lower job stress and work overload, and greater financial security. In addition, they also believe that their employer's benefits plan contributes to their overall well-being, although there is room for improvement with respect to retirement savings programs."

Engaged and Healthy

Highly-engaged employees speak positively of their employer, want to remain with the organization, and are willing to do all they can to help achieve corporate success. To analyze the data from the Best Employers study, Hewitt divided participating organizations into three groups — high, moderate and low — according to their employee engagement scores.

Fifty-six per cent of employees at high-engagement organizations reported being in good physical health. That figure dropped to 47 per cent at moderate-engagement employers and 41 per cent at those with low employee engagement. With respect to job stress, 28 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers stated they experienced high stress, while 33 per cent and 39 per cent did so, respectively, at organizations with moderate and low engagement. While 15 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers indicated they had a high degree of work overload, the comparable statistics were 19 per cent for those with moderate engagement and 22 per cent at low-engagement organizations.

"Better health, lower job stress and a manageable workload translate into tangible benefits for employers, particularly in terms of lower absenteeism" stated Rochelle Morandini, a senior organizational health consultant at Hewitt. "When employees were asked about the number of days they'd taken off from work in the last six months due to emotional, physical or mental fatigue, low-engagement organizations experienced more than twice as many mean days off than high-engagement employers (2.17 days versus 1.03 days). This difference can cost an organization with 1,000 employees upwards of a million dollars a year in disability costs and lost productivity. While higher engagement doesn't guarantee better health, a focus on increasing employee engagement may support health and thus, reduce absenteeism."

Concern Over Retirement and Other Savings

In addition to good health, highly engaged employees enjoy a greater sense of financial well-being in terms of debt management. Almost three-quarters of those working at high-engagement employers stated they were comfortable with how they were managing their debt; that figure dropped by 10 per cent at low-engagement organizations to 64 per cent. When asked whether they were able to pay off their debts over a time that was acceptable to them, 70 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers answered affirmatively. In contrast, 63 per cent shared that sentiment at moderate-engagement organizations and 58 per cent at those with low engagement.

That same sense of security does not extend to the adequacy of retirement and other savings, even though employees were surveyed prior to the current economic downturn. Less than half of employees, regardless of engagement level, believed that they were saving enough today to get the things they want within the next five years, or that they were currently saving enough for retirement. "This data suggests that organizations may want to beef up employee education efforts around retirement income adequacy, particularly given current market volatility," stated Crawford.

Employee concern over retirement savings is also reflected in feedback related to their employer-provided retirement savings programs. Barely half of employees that work for organizations with high engagement felt they were taking full advantage of their employer's retirement/savings plan, although that was 10 per cent higher than at moderate and low-engagement organizations. When asked whether they were comfortable with the level of investment risk they were assuming in their organization's retirement /savings plan, 56 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers answered yes, considerably more than those working for other organizations. However, 22 per cent of employees at high-engagement organizations stated that they did not know whether they were comfortable with that risk.

"Whenever employees respond that they're not sure whether they're making the most of their retirement/savings programs, they're giving their employer a strong signal that more work is needed on communication and education. Given the significant ongoing cost of these programs, and the message they send regarding the employer's support for employee financial well-being, more focus on communication and education will be well rewarded," said Crawford.

Taking Advantage of Benefit and Health Plans

With respect to employee health care benefits, workers at 65 per cent of high-engagement employers stated they were taking full advantage of their organization's plan, as compared to 53 per cent at low-engagement employers. High-engagement employers are more likely to offer employees incentives to encourage them to improve their health, as well as tools and resources to help them manage their health.

A case in point is pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Inc., which ranked number 14 on the list of the 50 Best Employers in Canada for 2009, and has been one of the 50 Best Employers for the last eight years, thanks to its high employee engagement.

"As a leading Canadian health care organization, we always strive to offer a positive work environment by providing programs that encourage a healthy lifestyle. We want our employees to know their health and well-being is important to us," said Sandy Fallon, Vice-President of Human Resources for GlaxoSmithKline Inc. "That focus on healthy employees has helped us to maintain high employee engagement — a significant contributor to our strong business results. We integrate health into our culture and provide a variety of health program options to meet different needs, such as on-site fitness facilities and trainers, yoga, healthy choices in our cafeteria, resources to support recovery for employees coping with illness, and resilience training to managers. Our employees access and use these resources to not only maintain good health, but to support them in quickly addressing any health concerns that arise."

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